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Part 5: CIO’s first 100 days - Deciphering the Cultural Code

After a short Christmas break, I have decided to to follow up on the last 4 parts of this series, where we focussed on understanding the current and future business strategy, capturing first impressions and understanding who the stakeholders are in the organisation. Before we move onto the topic of actual technology and the definition of a strategy and roadmap, we need to spend some time on the culture of an organisation. 


Culture is at the core of merging business strategy with technology for the CIO

The role of culture is both a protagonist and a catalyst. As a new CIO at the helm, understanding the intricate organisational culture is not merely a ‘soft and fluffy’ exercise but a directive in navigating the appetite for change. Culture, often a term both overstated and underrepresented, stands at the juncture of ambition and reality.


The essence of culture is mirrored in organisational behaviour. Consider the contrast between a culture that celebrates innovation versus one that is surrounded by compliance, bureaucracy and red tape. The former fosters an environment where ideas flourish and risks are embraced as the appetite allows for it. On the flip side, a culture embroiled in layers of hierarchy and control to prevent failures, limits the very spirit of innovation, rendering the organisation in its ability to rapidly evolve towards digital goals.


A deep dive into culture unveils insights into how amenable an organisation is to change, and at what pace it can follow the path of transformation. The culture of Netflix stands as a example of adaptability. With its ethos of "freedom and responsibility," Netflix has cultivated behaviours where agility and innovation are the norm, not the exception. This culture doesn’t just exist on paper, but exists through the corridors of the organisation, manifesting in its ability to pivot swiftly in the face of market evolution.


Focusing on the current culture, as opposed to the aspirational one, is important to understanding the existing code before endeavouring to rewrite it. It’s about being clear where there is resistance to change, be it from certain departments wedded to legacy systems or teams ensnared in the comfort of the status quo.


As a CIO, the goal is to align the technological narrative with the cultural rhythm of the organisation. It’s about aligning a culture where IT is not a silo of the organisation, but truly an enabler of the business and it’s goals.


Examples of conducive organisational culture are all around us. Besides Netflix, companies like Spotify and Atlassian have been celebrated for cultures that champion collaboration, innovation, and agility. Spotify, with its model of autonomous squads and guilds, established a culture of self-direction and continuous learning. Atlassian, on the other hand, with its open company, no "bullshit" culture, promotes transparency and open dialogue, creating an environment where technology and business merge seamlessly.


The journey of a CIO is not solely about technology, but its also about tuning into the cultural rhythm of the organisation. It’s about the combination of technology, merged with the behaviours that are instilled into the culture that help the organisational evolution.

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